Territorial Highway follows along the western edge of the lower Willamette Valley. Back in 1859, when Oregon became a state, it was part of a network of territorial roads which crisscrossed the valley and provided passage from the California border to the Puget Sound area in Washington. Today, Territorial Highway is a lazy back road, meandering past wineries, vineyards, alpaca and cattle farms, and rolling fields.
We recently had the opportunity to spend a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon slowly making our way up Territorial Highway, tasting wines, and sharing the views with a guest from out of town. Twenty-two wineries are a part of the South Willamette Wineries Association and 14 of them are within easy access from Territorial Highway. On this trip, we chose to stop at these four:
We started our day at at the southern tip of the Wine Route at Chateau Lorane. This winery has always been one of my favorites and we stop by here every year or so, either as part of an Elkton wine tour, a Southern Willamette Valley wine tour, or just because.
Winemaker Linde Kester enjoys making non-traditional blends, which means that at Chateau Lorane you can sample Marechel Foch and Leon Millot as well as Pinot Noir. This is also the winery that first introduced me to Tempranillo and Syrah back in the early days of my wine tasting ventures.
In the past, we’ve enjoyed picnics on the terrace overlooking a small lake. On this trip, we sampled in the tasting room and since we were the only ones there, all of our wine tasting questions were answered…. for example, did you know it takes about 2.5 pounds of grapes to make a bottle of wine? That’s how our calculations worked out while talking with our server and sampling wine at Chateau Lorane (which was a lot more fun than “googling” it).
King Estate Winery
King Estate Winery, just north of the town of Lorane, is impossible to miss as you drive along Territorial Highway. The Italian style winery has a commanding view from the top of a hill with the vineyard spread out below it. The last time we visited King Estate the tasting room was still in the wine making area and they tasted primarily whites. A lot has changed since those early days, and the atmosphere at King Estate is different than anything you will find in the southern Willamette Valley.
King Estate farms their grapes organically with an emphasis on protecting the watershed and the habitat, and this is shown in the quality of their wines. We know a lot of people who are huge fans of King Estate Wines as well as dining in their on-site restaurant with views over looking the Lorane Valley; in fact, we ran into friends while we were there. I did love the view from the outdoor terrace, the wines were tasty, and our wine server ended up being an old neighbor of ours which made our stop there even more memorable.
It is no secret that I love small wineries, I love meeting the people who make my wines, and I love little-known out-of-the-way places. King Estate is not one of these places. However, it is very much worth a stop, and someday we’ll get back for their famous Sunday brunch, perhaps in the fall when the leaves in the vineyards are changing colors.
Just north of King Estate we turned west off Territorial Highway and climbed up through the the trees before dropping down into a small, vineyard-covered valley with the Italian style tasting room of Iris Vineyard beckoning to us. Stopping by Iris Vineyards right after King Estate was a study in contrast as they both have beautiful views of vineyards and a valley, and they both have Italian style tasting rooms, but the atmospheres are very different.
In years past, the tasting room for Iris Vineyard was located in a warehouse in Cottage Grove. There is no comparison between that tasting room and the beautiful views and lovely atmosphere at the vineyard. I fell in love with the wines and the view. This summer, I am looking forward to grabbing a picnic lunch then heading up to Iris Vineyard to enjoy it on their terrace with a bottle of delicious wine.
Though Iris Vineyard isn’t visible from Territorial Highway, it is not a secret. We were not the only visitors in the popular tasting room, but Rachel, the tasting room manager, was exceptional in her ability to treat all the tasting parties like they were her only customers.
Our final stop was Domaine Meriwether, located west of Veneta on Highway 126, just 2 miles off Territorial Highway. Domaine Meriwether is located where Secret House Winery used to be, and for a while Secret House Winery (and its Red Silk sparkling wine) was one of our go-to wineries. Then we moved to Cottage Grove and it became less convenient. Since we last visited, the winery has gone through a couple ownership changes, but what has remained is a dedication to sparkling wines.
Domaine Meriwether has large indoor and outdoor gathering spaces, and after a day of wineries set amongst the hills, it was nice to experience the valley atmosphere at Domaine Meriwether. After sampling the wines, we each purchased a glass of our favorite, then sat outside to enjoy the grounds and watch evening fall.
As I understand it from our server, the winery is under new ownership and they are sampling wines created by the previous owners. It will be fun to explore here again in the future to experience how the wines and the winery changes as the new owners put their own stamp on things.
To learn more about wines in the South Willamette Valley, visit the website for South Willamette Wineries Association at www.southwillamettewineries.com.
And, as always, my disclaimer… please sample your wines responsibly. We took all afternoon to taste at these four wineries, opening up the tasting room at Chateau Lorane and closing down the tasting room at Domaine Meriwether. Our afternoon included a leisurely lunch at Our Daily Bread in Veneta (more about that in a later post) and our driver tasted with restraint.